Sunday 21 June 2015

Is This The Most Beautiful Jane Austen Edition Ever?

There's a particular edition of Pride and Prejudice that has become highly collectable. It goes for a decent whack, but is somewhat more affordable than the fifty-odd thousand quid a first edition will set you back.

This edition was first published in 1894, and it's the interior illustrations and especially the spectacular binding design, both by Hugh Thomson, which are the draw. The peacock design, now conveniently out of copyright, has ended up on everything from t-shirts to bags and watches.

A copy of this edition has recently come (and gone) from the Little Shop...

... which prompted me to look for a bit of background to the original design.

There's an interesting piece on Thomson's binding designs by Simon Cooke here.

This is what Cooke has to say about the now iconic Pride and Prejudice design.

"Thomson’s bindings are further concerned with the visualization of tone. Representing key scenes and characters is a fundamental device, but Thomson tries to convey the texts’ ambience as well. The gilt extravagance establishes a cheerful note, yet at a deeper level the bindings crystallize the tenor of novels’ imaginative worlds. The image on the front board of Pride and Prejudice exemplifies this approach. Austen’s tale is primarily concerned with wealth and display, but Thomson suggests that its main focus is courtship and the working of vanity, symbolising the various love-stories in the emblem of a peacock with spreading tail-feathers. Thomson’s design is extravagant, excessive, self-indulgent, and, in a calculated sense of the term, pointless beyond its ornamentalism: the very qualities that characterize the lives of Austen’s personae and are summed up in his luxurious image."

So there you go.


  1. The peacock edition of P&P is indeed gorgeous, but you left out an additional reason that it's such a treasure: in his introduction, George Saintsbury coined the term "Janeite," which we Austen fans now wear as a badge of pride.

    1. That I did not know. Thanks for dropping by and adding!